Guatemala: Ex dictador to face genocide charges 

The defense lawyer for former dictator Efrain Rios Montt said Friday that a Guatemalan judge violated due process when she issued unprecedented genocide charges against Rios Montt for conduct during the country's bloody civil war.

Danilo Rodriguez Galvez said Judge Carol Patricia Flores was supposed to issue her decision only after hearing testimony on allegations that Rios Montt was involved in hundreds of murders, human violations and the displacement of 29,000 during Guatemala's bloody, three-decade civil war.

Flores charged Rios Montt with genocide and crimes against humanity late Thursday.

It's the first time a Latin American court has charged former president with genocide.

Flores first lectured Rios Montt for an hour on the allegations, citing witness testimony, before issuing her decision, Rodriguez said. He said her conduct resembled a conviction and that he would file a formal complaint next week.

"The judge's duty was to report the resolution. The fact is that she talked for an hour as if the case had already been prosecuted," Rodriguez said.

Flores said Friday she would not comment because the complaint has yet to be filed.

Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala from 1982-83 after a military coup, is accused in 266 incidents that resulted in 1,771 deaths, 1,400 human rights violations and the displacement of 29,000 indigenous Guatemalans.

The conflict in Guatemala ended in 1996 with the signing of a peace accords between the government and leftist guerrillas. The conflict left more than 200,000 dead and missing, according to a U.N. report, 93 percent of them by state forces and paramilitary groups. Hundreds of Mayan villages were largely wiped away.

Thousands of people demanding prosecution packed the courthouse where Rios Montt was ordered to appear Thursday. There were also supporters in the crowd.

"I understand what the prosecution is saying and I won't respond," he said before the judge, later adding, "The point is to do justice, not vengeance."

After daylong testimony, some by victims and witnesses of atrocities, Flores deliberated for three hours before issuing her decision. Rios Montt faces prosecution as the mastermind as head of the military and Guatemala's equivalent of the secret service.

"Unfortunately there are cases like this where people have been waiting 29 years for justice," Flores said during the testimony.

The next step is for the prosecution to present the formal case against Rios Montt before the court.

He was ordered to be held under house arrest and to pay a $64,000 bond.

The former dictator was also told not to communicate with others accused in the case, which also involves country's first genocide charges against retired generals Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez and Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, the army chief of staff under Rios Montt.

Crimes against humanity charges were suspended earlier this month for retired Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia, the defense minister for Rios Montt who later deposed him to take over the presidency. The court determined that Mejia doesn't have the physical or mental faculties to go to trial.

Rodriguez and Lopez have also claimed health conditions have kept them from court proceedings. All are in their 80s.

Prosecutors argued Thursday that as de facto president, Rios Montt was responsible for the army's "scorched earth" policy in communities where there was potential support for the leftist rebels.

Prosecutor Manuel Vasquez also accused him of authorizing massacres to exterminate the ethnic Ixil Maya, as well as sexual assaults on the women.

"The politics that caused the massacres started in 1965 and continued throughout," Rodriguez argued on behalf of Rios Montt. "You can't ascribe authorship of that long-term political policy to Rios Montt."

Daughter Zury Rios, who heads the Guatemala Republican Front political party, said the case against her father came from outside interests.

It was first brought in 2000 by the Center for Legal Action for Human Rights based on testimony of the victims and their families.

The 1992 Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu also has accused Rios Montt of genocide in a Spanish court.

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